Nay Pyi Taw: Of MICE and white elephants

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CHIANG RAI, 18 September 2018: Myanmar’s political capital, Nay Pyi Taw, attracts a captive audience of business travellers who have no other options.

They have to fly to Nay Pyi Taw, a 300-km hop from Yangon, to conduct business meetings with government officials. Around 10 flights a day land at the city’s lavishly decorated, but largely empty airport, from Yangon alone.

Take that requirement away and very few travellers would bother to make Nay Pyi Taw airport their gateway to Myanmar.

This can be seen in the airport’s flight list. Every week there are 53 flights to Yangon, seven to Bangkok and just two to Kunming, China. But that is just a small part of the problem.

Resolving the Nay Pyi Taw conundrum is far more problematic.  Faced with a vast reservoir of empty three and four-star hotel rooms and two equally forlorn convention and exhibitions centres transforming the city into a vibrant tourism destination has turned into a perennial travel industry pursuit.

Based on the adage that hotel success is based on three simple factors — location, location and location — why waste valuable time pondering over a commercial solution to what is intrinsically a politically contrived problem?  The hotels are simply in the wrong destination.

Wishful thinking got Nay Pyi Taw where it is today and short of a political miracle efforts to fill up those empty hotel rooms are likely to remain just that; wishful thinking.

But it doesn’t stop people trying and last week the political capital played host to a seminar that mulled over the decade old question, where does Nay Pyi Taw fit in tourism?

In its enthusiasm to find a solution for Nay Pyi Taw’s empty hotels  the travel industry could be guilty of forgetting to take onboard the consumer’s point of view. Instead, travel leaders concoct schemes that are ultimately irrelevant. Travel consumers are not buying the storyline.

Therefore no surprises for recognising the seminar leaders thought the political capital would make a great events destination.  They call it MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) a watchword that is now bandied around as a quick fix for Nay Pyi Taw.

There are probably 8,000 hotel rooms in Nay Pyi Taw lining deserted four-lane avenues that were built because the developers engaged in wishful thinking. If they built a hotel in Nay Pyi Taw the government would support their applications for commercially viable properties elsewhere or so they thought.

If someone asked me to go the extra mile  to hit a sales target and win an incentive holiday prize, a holiday in Nay Pyi Taw, I would ask the boss what was the second prize destination.  It’s the fate of political capitals. How many people would choose a visit Canberra over a stay in Sydney or Melbourne?

But such practicalities don’t stop Myanmar’s travel industry from surmising they can pull a rabbit out of the hat and hey presto Nay Pyi Taw is the must-visit, cool destination for every corporate sales executive looking to win a place on an all-expenses paid incentive event.

According to a report in Myanmar Times the topic drifted to Chinese tourists and an offer by a Chinese airline to transport 1 million Chinese visitors to Nay Pyi Taw on charter flights.

Tap the totals into a mobile phone calculator and see where the Chinese airline arithmetic takes us.  Usually, charter airlines flying within Asia deploy the popular A320 that can accommodate with a squeeze in legroom around 200 passengers.  Over a year if the airline flew a daily charter to Nay Pyi Taw the Chinese airline would carry a maximum of 73,000 passengers.  So who conjured up a million?  They should definitely win a week’s holiday in Nay Pyi Taw for creative imagination.

But a million sounds better when you are talking up travel to a political capital during a high-powered seminar. For the record, Nay Pyi Taw does have a couple of tourist attractions one of them being an elephant corral where dwelling in the shade are three magnificent “white elephants.”   That says it all.